Din Mohammed's story

I came from Basti in the year 1910. I deliberately left my mother and father and ran away and came to Fiji, I was lured away by someone painting a glorious picture of my being able to obtain work elsewhere. On arriving in Fiji I realised how well off I had been in India in comparison with the difficult times of girmit here. I was single when I migrated. The recruiter was from our own village and that is why he was able to persuade me. I told nobody that I was going. In Basti my father had a farm of something like 10 to 15 bigha hence I did not experience any difficulty at home. But I was young and attracted by the recruiter’s story. I came quite willingly, simply because I was drawn by the offer of money. In India one received three pence a day, in the new place a shilling a day was promised, a substantial increase.

In the interim depot before we were sent to Calcutta, each man had to cook for himself. There was no case of someone else doing your cooking. I stayed for fourteen days in the interim depot from where some people ran away. Then we went to Calcutta where there was a Hindu cook, but everybody ate the food that he cooked no matter what their caste. There everyone lost his caste and his religion. The same clinical thermometer was put in everyone’s mouth, whether a Hindu, Muslim, Brahmin or anything else. I remained three or four weeks in Calcutta with no work to do at all. The day we were to go on board the ship we received a dhoti, a blanket and a small shirt.

From Calcutta our ship came to Madras. There it remained for about a week. Again on the ship we all ate the same food, nobody asked who was a Brahmin or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Bangi or a Chamar. We were given the same food to eat.

Aboard the ship, in the evenings particularly, it was very hot. One had to be very careful, otherwise one lost one’s blanket or even one’s plate and drinking bowl. The meal we used to get consisted of rice, onion, curry, sometimes of tinned meat, something we had never tasted in India. We also had dried fish. We did not like it. Only the South Indians ate it. There was also potato curry and dhall.

Fifteen of us from our ship were sent off together to a place in Waila. While we were passing some people told us that we had left our mother and father and now fate was going to take its toll. One of us asked why this was so. One of them said, because we were assigned to work for a very tough European.

On our very first night on our estate the place was struck by a hurricane. Foodstuff that had been given to us was all washed away. Next day we were left without anything; when we approached the European owner he told us that he had also lost everything including the roof of his house which had been blown off. We had nothing so we went to a shop where we were given some bread and some sugar which we ate and did our work of cutting cane. After work we went home at night and went to bed without any food. The next day the European owner gave us some more foodstuff and took us out to work. He gave us a spade which some among us did not know how to use. We were supposed to dig a drain.

Our sardar was a really rotten character. But the European owner told us not to touch the sardar otherwise he would deal with us. One night we heard a gun go off and this frightened us. Therefore we put up with this rotten sardar who was like our enemy. He would not help us. Worse, he used to encourage some people to bully others. We had no redress against him. On some estates bad sardars were beaten. Our sardar was evil but there were others elsewhere who were good.

There was no religious conflict. We were all one. Whether Hindu or Muslim we ate each other’s food. We were friendly towards each other except when it came to prayers. Hindus did not come to our mosques but then this was to be expected because each practised his own religion. But if we had religious celebrations or readings in our homes they would come. In those days chickens were cheap, so was goat meat, and there was no concern about beef, hence there was no problem about eating.